My husband’s parents first opened Highclere Castle to the public in the summer of 1989 and thereafter each July and August. When it came to our turn to take over, Geordie and I decided to open during Easter and the surrounding school holidays as well, hoping for reasonably good weather so that visitors would be able to park on the fields around the Castle. Of course, as some of you may remember, that hope went horribly wrong with the rainfall last Easter but that is another story.
Having decided to open earlier in the year, we then had to focus on the gardens in order to create more interest earlier in the year. Of course, we bought daffodil and narcissi bulbs and began planting 1,000 a year which, frankly, went nowhere. Geordie then found a Dutch company with a machine which plants 5,000 in two hours which thrilled the gardeners. In fact, this was such a new excitement that in the first year they poured every bulb they could see into the top of it, leaving none available to grow anyway else or indeed in the greenhouses for inside the Castle, which caused some consternation.
The actual date of Easter Sunday is something of a moveable feast. The Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, wrote that “the Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter”. This is not totally correct but gives the general gist. The date depends both on the equinox and lunar month and reminds me of our links to the seasons and to the diurnal rhythms which still underpin how our bodies function: links that we increasingly seem to ignore or forget them as we keep on lights and screens and spend less and less time outside.
The custom of giving eggs at Easter celebrates new life. For Christians, the egg is a symbol of Jesus’s resurrection – when they are cracked open they relate to the empty tomb and the miracle of life over death. I am not sure I ever wondered why we were hunting them as children but we did look forward to Easter Sunday and all the fun and the chocolate. As a result, I very much wanted to create our own Easter Egg hunt at Highclere – a treasure hunt around the gardens with other entertainments. It has taken place now for 8 or 9 years and has always been in aid of our local children’s hospice, Naomi House.
Some 1,000 plus children spend the morning running around looking for clues. This year we had Disney Princesses who looked a little chilly in our not always hospitable climate and Storm Troopers being arrested by our local policemen.
Along with the bouncy castle it was a good day out for the family and at the end everyone got an Easter egg.